Welcome to Bytronic’s blog! We solve interesting problems, and we want to tell you a bit about them.
An overview of what we do is probably a good place to start. We work in factory automation and inspection, specialising in machine vision, industrial ID and automated test equipment for a variety of industries. We’d really like to educate people as to how machine vision can solve a variety of problems – including those that seem impossible!
Plus, we get to work with robots sometimes. And everyone loves robots.
Machine Vision is our core activity, and provides a foundation upon which we build our other services. But what is machine vision and what can it do?
A generally-accepted definition of machine vision is: the analysis of images to extract data for controlling a process or activity*.
Vision systems use a combination of cameras, lighting and filters. The correct mix of hardware is crucial to achieving exceptional results; it’s not enough just to point a camera at a production line and take a look at the image produced. Together with the hardware, vision systems also use software for image analysis and data processing – and suitable user interfaces are vital to enable employees to interact with the systems once they’re in place.
This combination of hardware, software and interfaces can be tailored to specific tasks and environments, including those with extremes of temperature and variable lighting.
Machine vision has two main applications: automatic inspection and robot guidance, in a wide range of industries and undertaking a wide range of tasks:
- Food processing and inspection: this is a specialist field requiring food-grade, washable hardware. The systems can be used to inspect the consumables and the packaging, helping to reduce waste. With massive penalties imposed by supermarkets for incorrectly-labelled goods, 100% inspection is now necessary.
- Automotive inspection: machine vision technology has been used in the automotive industry for a long time now. Coupled with automated testing equipment, vision systems are used to ensure that only reliable, correct components are fitted to parts such as dashboards. Continuous inspection means that errors are discovered early, not right at the end of the process.
- Electronics manufacturing: electronics are made in vast quantities, so vision systems are the only practical method of ensuring reliability. Employed at almost every stage of the manufacturing process, some of the fastest and highest-resolution cameras are used in this industry. It drives innovation in the imaging industry, provides some interesting challenges…
- Product inspection and measurement: vision systems are commonly used to ensure that products correspond exactly to their original design specifications. We do this by undertaking measurement of key dimensions or sometimes by full 3D comparison, so we know that each item will work as expected.
- Factory automation and robots: imaging in factory automation and robots enables fixed processes to become intelligent. We can, essentially, give robots the power of sight! Pick and place systems become more reliable, more cost-effective, and less likely to cause damage to goods.
- Print and packaging: identifying printing issues early on can save a lot of time and money by reducing wasted materials. Optical character recognition (OCR) and verification (OCV) can be carried out by vision systems, making sure that printing is legible and correct. Checking batch codes and instructions is particularly important for those products that may pose a safety risk, such as medicines and cleaning fluids.
At Bytronic, we concentrate on the applications discussed above – but machine vision is capable of much more. Among others, it is used in rail and transport, scientific and medical imaging, traffic management, sports analysis, intelligent security and defence.
Making it all work
We also specialise in industrial ID; in particular, we can build systems that are able to cope with difficult-to-read codes. Perhaps there is a barcode on a crisp packet, or packaging covered by clingfilm; or even a code that is invisible to the naked eye! You code it; we can (probably) read it.
And to tie all of a business’ systems together, we also specialise in using and communicating with custom protocols and interfacing seamlessly with existing protocols such as Ethernet or ASI. All the data that vision systems extract from processes needs dealing with too. Effective communications between systems is vital; this can be accomplished using OPC servers, which allows computers and other devices to talk to PLCs and extract data.
Over the years, we’ve found that each problem encountered by each business within each industry is unique. One size doesn’t fit all, so truly innovative and bespoke systems are needed to fix those problems. Every job is different and that’s what makes what we do so interesting.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing some of our more interesting and quirky experiences, and hopefully showing off what can be accomplished with the right mix of equipment, skills and experience.
*Source: Christopher G. Relf, “Image acquisition and processing with LabView”.